Exploring for Insects
Nature Bulletin No. 722 September 7, 1963
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist
EXPLORING FOR INSECTS
People come in contact with insects more often than with any other
members of the animal kingdom. We slap mosquitoes, swat flies, dust
ilea powder on the dog, pack moth balls with our winter clothes, and
brush ants from our picnic lunch, But, except for a nodding
acquaintanceship with a few kinds, most of us are woefully ignorant
about our insect neighbors.
It is easy to get the impression that most insects are pests that should be
avoided or destroyed. This is far from the truth. Only a small fraction of
the ten thousand kinds that live in Illinois are undesirables. A much
larger number are good ' insects that benefit us in a wide variety of
ways. Let's take a few examples. Some pollinate the flowers that
produce our fruit. Others devour hordes of bad insects that destroy
cultivated crops. Without insects for food, most song birds would starve
and most fish would go hungry.
One of the best times to study insects is in early fall when they are
plentiful and easy to collect. The place to find them is almost anywhere
-- on flowers and fruit, on trees and shrubbery, among grass and weeds,
under boards and trash, in soil and rotten wood, in ponds and streams,
at windows and under lights at night. It is difficult to name a place
where there is none. Whether you are an amateur pursuing a hobby or a
student working on a science project, it is best to follow your own
interests and inclinations. Making your own collection or learning a few
facts by your own observations will mean more to you than looking at
museum specimens or reading in textbooks.
Your equipment may be homemade and inexpensive or it may be of
professional quality provided by some schools or purchased from
supply companies. Ordinarily it includes an insect net, killing bottle,
pins and boxes for mounting the collection. Small insects, insect eggs,
caterpillars and other larvae are preserved in vials of rubbing alcohol.
An assortment of jars, small boxes and other containers are useful for
studying living insects and for storing cocoons and galls until the adults
emerge. Cyanide killing bottles are too dangerous to be used by
youngsters. Nail polish remover, purchased from dime stores and drug
stores, is a good substitute.
Several useful pamphlets describe how to make your own equipment;
how to make and care for a collection; and how to identify insects.
Among them are:
"How to collect and preserve insects" by H. H, Ross, 1962, Circular 39,
Illinois State Natural History Survey, Urbana. This contains 71 pages
of practical information including 80 excellent illustrations. On
request, teachers will be sent single copies without charge -- other
copies cost twenty-five cents each.
"Common Illinois Insects" by A. Gilbert Wright, 1951, Story of Illinois
Series, No. 8, Illinois State Museum, Springfield. Its 32 pages and
dozens of photographs outline the life histories and habits of our most
interesting insect groups. Single copies 25¢.
"Insect Life", by Edwin Way Teale, 1960, Merit Badge Series, Boy
Scouts of America. Written by a famous naturalist, it rouses keen
interest in insects. The directions for making your own equipment are
especially useful. Sixty-four pages with many fine photographs and
diagrams. Available at Boy Scout Headquarters for 35¢ per copy.
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012